Thanksgiving décor for my mother was a white tablecloth and fine crystal, but as a child I longed for something more. So as soon as I had my own household, I added the cornucopia. The sight of all those colorful fruits spilling from a basket filled my spirit with holiday joy. In my mind, the horn-shaped vessel embodied the very essence of the harvest season.
That being said, I later discovered that the origins of the cornucopia had nothing to do with a basket, nor was it meant to contain fruit. It all started with a goat named Amalthea.
AMALTHEA AND THE HORN OF PLENTY
Cornucopia, or cornu copiae, translates literally to horn (cornu) of plenty (copiae). In the English language, it also means abundance. But while the word may have Latin roots, its origins are firmly rooted in Greek mythology.
In Greek legend, the cornucopia actually refers to the horn of Amalthea, the name given to the goat who fed the infant Zeus on Crete. According to one version of the myth, Zeus broke off one of Amalthea’s horns and gave it to the nymph daughters of Melisseus. In so doing, he endowed it with the power to be filled with whatever its owners desired.
The Cretan goat known as Kri Kri/Photo: Evita Kouts
Other accounts say Amalthea was herself a nymph who fed the god with the milk of a goat. When the goat accidentally broke off one of her horns, the nymph filled it with fresh herbs and fruit and gave it to Zeus as a gift. This may explain why for centuries, the cornucopia is depicted as a real goat’s horn filled with fruits and grains.
The Childhood of Zeus by Jacob Jordaens/Louvre Museum
Whatever the reason for the horn being separated from the goat, Zeus is said to have so loved Amalthea that he placed her among the stars as the constellation Capra, (which is Latin for goat). Today we know her as Capricornus (horned goat), or Capricorn.
The constellation Capricorn
SYMBOL OF ROMAN ABUNDANCE
Still other stories associate the horn of plenty with Fortuna, the Roman goddess of luck, fate and fortune. As the giver of abundance, she is often depicted bearing a cornucopia.
Fortuna holding a cornucopia/Istanbul Archeology Museum/Photo: shutterstock.com
Through the ages, as the popularity of the cornucopia has grown, it has become synonymous with the harvest and fall’s abundance. Frequently depicted in classical art, it now figures on buildings, sculptures, paintings and coins. There are entire towns, businesses, jails and temples named after it. And here in Washington, DC, it appears five times in the U.S. Capitol.
An ancient bas relief depicting a goat’s horn overflowing with fruits
Statue of Zeus with a cornucopia
Cornucopia sculpture in Greece
THE PILGRIMS PROBABLY DIDN’T HAVE A CORNUCOPIA
While it is unlikely that the Pilgrims had a cornucopia, Americans have nonetheless adopted the vessel as one of the most popular Thanksgiving decorations. As a symbol of plenty, it’s a natural fit for a lavish table. Nowadays, however, it usually takes the form of a basket rather than an actual horn (although there other materials available.) People traditionally fill it with fruits, but vegetables, nuts, flowers and leaves are also popular.
A ceramic cornucopia
Still, there’s something about the story of the goat Amalthea that I find especially heart-warming. This Thanksgiving when I set the table, I’ll be thinking of her and the abundance she represents, a harvest wish for plenty to cultures throughout the ages.
Decorating a home can be expensive. That said, flowering houseplants can offer an affordable alternative. I love how they perk up a room, instantly injecting color into blah indoor spaces. Changed your mind? You can switch them around or swap them out completely. And houseplants last a whole lot longer than cut flowers.
I know… for some, the thought of growing plants in their home can seem intimidating. But in fact, it’s easy. All you need to do is follow the steps below.
1. GIVE YOUR FLOWERING HOUSEPLANTS SOME SUN
Sun is the main source of energy for almost every living thing. All flowering houseplants need at least some concentrated hours of bright to direct sunlight in order to produce blooms.
Plants need at least some sunlight to flower
The label is your best guide to providing what your plant needs. Read it carefully to determine what kind of sunlight your plant prefers, then place it in the proper location. No plant will thrive in a dark corner.
2. ADHERE TO A REGULAR WATERING SCHEDULE
Consistent watering makes stronger plants. And flowering houseplants prefer a regular watering schedule. The watering cycle you choose will depend on the kind of plants you have and the level of humidity and amount of light you have in your home.
Plants need water
Some flowering houseplants prefer to have a good soak, then dry out slightly between waterings. This allows them to properly absorb both water and nutrients. Conversely, others like to be kept consistently moist. It may take some experimenting to determine what works best in your home. Either way, good drainage is key.
Whatever your watering schedule, always add just enough water to the pot to allow a small amount to run out from the bottom. This will ensure the roots of your flowering houseplant are well saturated. In addition, it will help wash away salts and fertilizers that may have built up in the soil.
Good drainage is key
Most importantly, never leave your plants sitting in water. This will lead to root rot and ultimately the death of your houseplant. Yellow leaves are an indicator that this may be happening.
3. FEED REGULARLY
Unlike plants grown in soil, indoor plants are confined to the pot. That means it’s up to you to provide all their water and nutrients. Feeding your flowering houseplants not only helps them produce more blooms, but it also wards of indoor pests and diseases. I use a balanced liquid fertilizer mixed with tap water every other week.
Plants need food to flower
Certain species such as African violets, orchids and dwarf citrus trees, though, prefer their own special food. It’s best to check with your local plant store to see which products best meet your needs.
Following are 12 top flowering houseplants for easy-care blooms indoors.
Adaptable to just about every environment, African violets are one of the easiest flowering houseplants to grow. Moreover, there are hundreds of varieties to choose from. The fuzzy-leaved plant performs best in evenly moist soil and indirect sunlight.
The key is to keep those fuzzy leaves dry. Water your African violet at the soil surface, or allow the plant to wick up water from a saucer. However, never allow your plant to remain standing in water or the roots may be damaged. African violets grow best in smaller pots.
This beautiful succulent with orange, yellow and red flowers has long lasting flowers and attractive, oval-shaped fleshy foliage. The plant blooms naturally indoors during winter and early spring.
Kalanchoes prefer bright light, but beware – they’ll burn in full sun. Again, proper drainage is key. Use a loose potting soil containing peat moss, perlite and sand and place pebbles at the bottom of the pot to guard against standing water. And never place a kalanchoe near a draft or cold window.
Jasminum polyanthum, also known as pink jasmine or white jasmine, is the most common variety of jasmine grown indoors. A fragrant plant with showy white blooms, it grows best near a south-facing window. Cool temperatures are essential to encouraging this flowering houseplant’s buds to form. Jasmine typically flowers indoors in February.
Grow jasmine in evenly moist soil and prune regularly to keep it in bounds. Repot it in the spring, trimming the roots before replenishing with fresh soil.
OXALIS (Purple Clover)
Often called shamrock due to the clover-like shape of its leaves, oxalis is a small-sized flowering houseplant that grows to a height of around six inches. The delicate white or soft pink flowers bloom off and on during fall, winter and spring. The leaves fold up at night and open again in the morning.
Oxalis grows from tiny bulbs that can be divided at any time. Water your plant when the potting soil is dry to the touch or if you observe the stems starting to droop. Look for exotic varieties for best indoor performance.
CHRISTMAS CACTUS, THE HOLIDAY HOUSEPLANT
This beautiful flowering houseplant loves holidays. There are Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter varieties, some of which can be encouraged to re-bloom. Buds start forming a month before blooms and darken as they swell. And the flowers come in a wide variety of colors including, red, pink, orange, purple, orange and cream.
Christmas Cactus likes bright, indirect light and cool temperatures. But, keep it away from drafts and heat sources that can stunt growth and burn leaves. Unlike desert cacti, these tropical cacti cannot tolerate dry soil. Keep the potting soil evenly moist for best growth. And water only when the top inch of the soil feels dry.
ANTHURIUM (Flamingo Flower)
The heart-shaped ‘flower’ of anthurium is actually a modified leaf that grows from the base of a fleshy spike of flowers. The most common houseplant variety is Painter’s Palette, which features long-lasting blooms (usually red) and glossy green, arrow-shaped leaves.
Anthuriums grow best in medium to bright light (avoid direct sunlight, however.) Keep the potting soil constantly moist and for best results, use tepid water. A consistently warm temperature is key to achieving good growth.
Often tossed after they quit flowering, gloxinias can become great houseplants with proper care. Best known for their large bell-shaped blooms, the dramatic plants come in a wide variety of colors, including white stripes and speckles. The plants’ soft gray-green, fuzzy leaves contrast beautifully with the flowers.
Gloxinias prefer warm temperatures, evenly moist soil and high humidity (supplement humidity with a humidifier or tray with pebbles and water). As with African violets, it’s important to keep water off of the foliage to avoid brown spot.
Unlike African violets, gloxinias require a period of rest in order to bloom again. Once flowers fade, reduce watering to about half and resume regular watering when new growth appears.
There are hundreds of varieties of this beautiful plant to choose from, most of which will produce indoor blooms all year long. Foliage varies among green, silver, variegated or maroon. And flowers come in a variety of colors, including red, pink, white and yellow.
All begonias prefer medium to bright light and evenly moist soil. However, they can become leggy fast without proper care. To prevent this from happening, keep your plants in shape by following these simple pruning techniques.
Angel-Wing begonia is so-named for the shape of its leaves that resemble wings. Numerous cultivars exist in different sizes with different leaf colors and red, pink or white blossoms. Angel-Wing begonias are some of the easiest flowering houseplants to grow. Pinch back tall stems to keep the plant bushy.
Rieger begonia is a winter-blooming variety with clusters of camellia-like blossoms in fiery colors of red, yellow and orange atop glossy green leaves.
The popular (outdoor) bedding plant, waxbegonia, can also make a great houseplant. Varieties feature red, pink or white flowers atop waxy green foliage. The plant needs good air circulation to thrive.
Arguably the most recognizable of all the orchid varieties, the easy-to-grow Phalaenopsis produces flowers that can sometimes last up to three months. The long sprays of large blooms flourish indoors under normal light and prefer the same temperatures that humans do.
Place the plant in indirect sunlight and water once a week, making sure the soil remains moist just under the soil surface. Be careful not to overwater or the flowers will wilt and fall off. Good drainage is essential to guard against root rot. After the last flower finishes blooming, cut the stalk in half and wait to see if the plant re-blooms.
SILVER VASE PLANT (Urn Plant)
Silver vase plant is a type of bromeliad that is grown both indoors and outdoors depending on the climate. The common name comes from the structure of the plant, the center of which resembles an urn or vase. The plant produces a large pink spiky-shape flower above stiff, silver and green foliage. It lasts for months and grows to around six inches.
Low-maintenance, silver vase plant makes a great flowering houseplant. Its minimal requirements include bright light and periodic watering (every 2-3 weeks). Watering involves filling the “vase” (and not the potting soil) with water.
KAFFIR LILY (Orange Clivia Miniata)
A member of the amaryllis family, the Kaffir lily can be forced into bloom in winter or early spring indoors. It bears clusters of up to 20 reddish-orange tubular flowers with yellow centers above glossy green leaves. The plant is also available in red, peach, yellow and white varieties.
Kaffir lilies need cool and dry temperatures for 6 to 8 weeks in fall in order to bloom. Water sparingly until the bloom appears (keeping the soil on the dry side), then increase watering midwinter. Place in bright light, but keep away from direct sun.
CALAMONDIN ORANGE (For experts only)
The Calamondin Orange is actually a hybrid between a mandarin orange and kumquat. The dwarf citrus tree has woody stems covered with oval, glossy green leaves that give off a citrusy aroma. In late winter or early spring, fragrant white blossoms appear followed by fruits that may stay on the plant for many weeks. Once ripe, the fruits can be harvested and used like lemons.
For best performance indoors, plant calamondin in a small container. Plants won’t re-bloom if they are potted in a container that is too large. Make sure there are good drainage holes in the bottom of the container to protect against root rot. Place the tree in bright light, with at least four hours of direct sunlight a day. Rotate the plant a quarter turn each week to promote even growth. Fertilize with a good organic fruit tree fertilizer.
Looking for more? To see photos of my garden designs, including plant lists, check out my Instagram at carole.herebydesign. I post seasonally from spring through fall.
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Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.
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Annuals for the cutting garden/Photo: Julie Hove Anderson Photography
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‘It was an uncertain spring.’ – Virginia Wolf, The Years
In times of trouble, I often turn to Voltaire’s Candide to help put things in perspective. In this classic satire, Candide and his companions undergo unspeakable hardships only to find themselves in the end alone, together. Faced with a new normal, Candide arrives at the only sensible conclusion. “We must cultivate our garden,” he says. Continue reading →